Pathways of Development in Child Heritage Speakers' Use of Spanish Demonstratives

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Naomi Shin
Mariana Marchesi
Jill P. Morford


Scholars have argued that restricted language input slows language acquisition, but the pathway of development may remain the same. The current study investigated the influence of amount of Spanish input on Spanish demonstrative usage among 19 U.S. child heritage speakers, ages 3;4–8;7. Demonstratives are among the first grammatical features to emerge in children’s language, but we know little about their acquisition by heritage speakers. Previous research shows that monolingual Spanish-speaking children rely heavily on este/esta ‘this’ and
only later learn to vary between demonstrative forms, using este/esta primarily for proximal referents and ese/esa ‘that’ for distal referents. As such, we hypothesized that child heritage speakers who experience restricted Spanish input would rely on este/esta for a prolonged period of time. 586 demonstratives were elicited during a puzzle completion task and were coded for referent location (proximal, distal). Contrary to our hypothesis, less Spanish spoken at home negatively correlated with proportion of este/esta-usage. Children exposed to abundant Spanish in the home patterned like adult monolingual Spanish speakers, producing este/esta for proximal referents and ese/esa for distal referents. By contrast, children who experienced restricted input in Spanish produced mostly ese/esa, regardless of spatial location of the referent. The results suggest that restricted input in Spanish yields a developmental trajectory with overgeneralization of ese/esa rather than este/esta. Importantly, we argue that
the identification of two groups of child heritage speakers who exhibit different developmental pathways lends itself to differentiated instruction in the heritage language classroom.

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